Israel’s High Court: No prior hearing before home demolitions

This morning, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected petitions on behalf of 49 families, whose homes are threatened to be demolished, filed by the human rights organisations LAW and Hamoked. The petitioners argued that those Palestinian families should have the right to a hearing prior to the demolition. Moreover, demolishing homes of families of suspects amounts to collective punishment.

Justices Aharon Barak, Shlomo Levin and Eliezer Rivlin stated that they do not rule on the legality of home demolitions but on the need for prior hearing. Israel’s Supreme Court agreed with the State Attorney’s office, represented by Shai Nitzan, that home demolitions are part of ‘war activities’. This contradicts the statement by the Supreme Court that it would not rule on legality. Moreover, in the case of home demolitions as a punitive measure, Israeli forces, tanks, armored personnel carriers and D9 bulldozers are brought in specifically for the home demolition and withdraw afterwards.

The Supreme Court ruled that the courts should deal with demolitions on a case-by-case basis, which does not practically provide a legal means to prevent home demolitions. This ruling means that Palestinians are denied access to judicial review of home demolition orders.

Between the submission of the petitions and the hearing this morning, three homes were demolished. In the past 48 hours, Israeli forces have demolished eleven homes. Since the beginning of 2002, Israeli forces have demolished 272 Palestinian homes in the West Bank.

Destruction of property in occupied territories is forbidden under article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It constitutes collective punishment, which explicitly prohibited by article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It further constitutes extra-judicial punishment and arbitrary interference in home and property.

LAW believes that nobody should be arrested, detained or exiled where there is no likelihood that he or she committed an offence or where there has been no proper legal process. When an entire family is punished for the suspected deeds of one of its members through the destruction of its home, the arbitrary arrest of family members and possibly the expulsion of family members, there can be little doubt that the punishment is a collective one, primarily affecting people whose only crime is to be related to a person suspected. The demolition of homes of those who have not been tried, convicted, or even arrested, reinforces the conclusion that demolitions are an extra-judicial form of reprisal.